Joshua Reviews Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me [SXSW 2012]

Sometimes, expectations can do a film wonders. However, sometimes, it can kick it right in the face.

Coming into this year’s now completed SXSW Film Festival, one of the biggest films making their way to Austin was the directorial debut of comedian Mike Birbiglia, entitled Sleepwalk With Me. Based on an episode of ‘˜This American Life’ from Birbiglia, the film also stars the beloved comic, and is easily one of the most talked about festival darlings of this very young year.   A romantic drama/comedy of sorts, the film is at times brilliantly relateable, while also being one of the slightest comedies in years.

Sleepwalk follows the story of Matt Pandamiglio, a struggling comic turned bartender, who is in a relationship that is going nowhere.   Not wanting to get hitched, his current main squeeze, who he has been with for nearly a decade, has different ideas.   With a subplot finding our lead struggling with life affecting sleepwalking, the film is a devastatingly realistic look at love and the modern relationship, whilst also being a superficial mess of a film.

First, with the film’s successes, all lead by star Birbiglia.

As a filmmaker, Birbiglia isn’t the next Terrence Malick.   There are a few visual flourishes, and the dream/sleepwalking sequences are superb, but it feels aesthetically as inventive as an in-house SNL skit or your run-of-the-mill video podcast. The script is imbued with a great sense of comedy and comedic timing, but equally doesn’t allow for its cast members to really delve all that deep into their romantic plight, opting for laughs more than true emotional resonance. The film shines during one moment, when Birbiglia’s character finally breaks down and lashes out as a man who is afraid that he just may not be ready to share his life with another human being.

Performance wise, this film is a master’s class.   Birbiglia is so great here as the charming and yet somewhat disgustingly unsympathetic Matt, a man who is unsure about his future, and wholly unwilling to mature and move forward with the woman he’s been with for much of his adult life. Lauren Ambrose steals the show here as Abby, and this is truly the pair’s film.   Their chemistry is kinetic and engaging, with both being allotted sequences to prove that they aren’t anything more than true characters.

Featuring underwhelming cinematography but a score and soundtrack to die for, the film is far more interesting as a narrative than it is an actual film.   The premise is brutal and realistic, and as a man attempting to spend the rest of his life with the woman of his dreams, the sense of doubt and uncertainty is palpable.   Not the most cinematic of features, this is the best podcast you’ll ever see.

Overall, Sleepwalk is far from a bad film.   Shockingly sterile and slight? That is a far better way to describe it.   Pulling as many punches as it tosses our way, the film is a performance showcase featuring two immensely talented actors at their very best.   A story of love and uncertainty, the film is hampered by mind blowing expectations, and a lead character that is just about as unlikeable and unsympathetic as a lead could be.   Saved by the great performances, this is very much a film everyone should see, but one that will be hard pressed to be as broad as that would sound.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.

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